Seeking to Plug ‘Brain Drain’ of Rural Social Workers

View all blog posts under News and Articles | View all blog posts under Social Work

As the U.S. population shifts toward urban areas, many rural communities are left with a dearth of qualified social workers.

The University of Nevada, Reno School of Social Work seeks to help.

Reflecting the circumstances faced by Nevada and other locales with a high number of rural communities, we have created one of only a few online master’s degree programs in the nation designed to help students develop competence in all aspects of social work.

“In a rural setting, a social worker has to be an all-arounder,” said Goutham Menon, professor, and director of the University of Nevada, Reno’s School of Social Work. “You cannot really just be one thing. That is, I cannot just specialize and say, ‘I will only work with kids.’ … In rural settings, they don’t have that luxury of having specialized treatment options.”

In our online Master of Social Work (MSW), students don’t choose a specialization — for example, caring only for children, mentally ill patients or the elderly. Instead, our students study a curriculum structured around advanced generalist practice (AGP), giving them a background in the full array of social work.

“Typically when you see social work, people just think of mental health or things like that,” Menon said. “But it’s much more, and that is why our program deals with advanced generalist practice. We train students in the entire spectrum, from dealing with individuals all the way to trying to change policy through advocacy.”

Menon has noticed what he refers to as a ‘brain drain’ that occurs as students from rural communities leave to attend college. If students specialize only in one aspect of social work, the demand to sustain their services might not exist in their home communities, pushing them to work in cities rather than return home. This leaves less-populated areas with few qualified social workers.

The University of Nevada, Reno’s online MSW addresses this issue in two important ways. First, because our students focus on a range of important topics — from patient care and counseling to policy and advocacy — graduates are equipped to attack the complex social issues they might encounter in their communities.

Second, the program’s online nature allows students to remain in their home communities while learning. Students who hold a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree can complete the 32-credit MSW program in as few as 15 months, with no residency requirement. This allows students to graduate and begin serving their communities quickly.

Students who have a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field also can take advantage of our online MSW through a 62-credit curriculum that includes a two-day residency in Reno, Nevada.

“We are dealing with complicated issues in our world today, and I think social work can provide the leadership in coming up with solutions,” Menon said. “Our hope is that after getting a degree, students will stay in their own rural communities and help those communities thrive and prosper in whatever way they can.”

Do you have questions? Learn more about your role in social work’s future with the University of Nevada, Reno’s online Master of Social Work program today. The School of Social Work at the University of Nevada, Reno has a long history of educating Nevada’s social workers and professionals in the United States. Its focus is to educate, advocate, and empower.